Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health but it can be hard; from sugar cravings to portion sizes to getting the right amount of the food groups you need. For some people, it can be made even harder. Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. With Eating Disorder week starting on 2 March 2020, here is what you need to know:

What is an eating disorder?

According to the NHS an eating disorder is when you have an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over your life and make you ill. It can involve eating too much or too little or becoming obsessed with your weight and body shape.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence.

Who is affected by eating disorders?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder.

Eating disorders don’t recognise gender: Males make up 25% of all logged eating disorder cases.

Eating disorders don’t recognise age: Facts show that 16 to 40 year olds are most likely to have an eating disorder, but children as young as six and people in their 70s have also been diagnosed.

You are more likely to develop an eating disorder if you have a family member with an eating disorder (this is compared to individuals who don’t have a family history of these illnesses).

The most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa – Around 10% of people affected by an eating disorder suffer from anorexia nervosa. This is when you try to keep your weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or both. The average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is 16-17 years old.
  • Bulimia – Around 40% of people affected by an eating disorder suffer from bulimia nervosa. This is when you lose control and binge eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time and then deliberately make yourself sick, use laxatives, restrict what you eat, or do too much exercise to try to stop yourself gaining weight. The average age of onset for bulimia nervosa is 18-19 years old.
  • Binge eating disorder (BED) – This disorder can often leave you feeling guilty or upset. It is when you regularly lose control of your eating, eat large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortably full.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – this is the most common eating disorder and it is when your symptoms don’t quite match anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. It does not mean it’s a less serious illness.

What are some of the symptoms of eating disorders?

34% of participants in a YouGov* survey about eating disorders could not identify any signs or symptoms of eating disorders, that is more than 1 in 3 participants.

Some of the main symptoms to know if you have an eating disorder are:

  • Deliberately making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
  • Eating very little food
  • Exercising too much
  • Spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
  • Avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved
  • Having very strict habits or routines around food
  • Changes in your mood
  • Feeling cold, tired or dizzy
  • Problems with your digestion
  • Your weight being very high or very low for someone of your age and height
  • Not getting your period (female only)

Some of the symptoms you may notice in other people:

  • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Lying about how much and when they have eaten, or how much they weigh
  • Eating a lot of food very fast
  • Excessively or obsessively exercising
  • Avoiding eating with others
  • Cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • Wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

You can find out more about the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia and BED on the NHS website.

If you think you are suffering from an eating disorder, get in contact with your GP.

For advice on weight management and nutrition visit the Everyone Health website to see if you are eligible for help. Or call: 0333 005 0095.

*The YouGov survey was taken on behalf of the eating disorder charity Beat.

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